Web Hosting for Non-Technical People: Pricing Cloud Services
Last week we talked about the dangers of generalizing about website and app requirements when picking a cloud service provider. Here’s the big question we’re going to try to answer this week:
Is it even possible to compare prices between cloud hosting options?
An increasing number of large cloud service providers have been trying to address the problem of explaining just what their services cost by producing cost calculators like Amazon’s. There are a few problems with these calculators.
First of all, cloud cost calculators only tell you how much computing power – usually in made-up, arbitrary units defined by the service provider (e.g., “instances” or “processing units”) – will cost. They don’t tell you how many of those “units” your site or app will consume.
Second, brand-neutral cloud cost calculators simply don’t exist. Why not? Because calculators cost money to build, and somebody has to foot the bill. Most of the cloud calculators out there are actually produced by one or the other of the major cloud service providers, and white-labeled by one of their resellers. So, typically, they offer no comparative data. And remember, going to one company’s cloud cost calculator is like trying to figure out how much your next car will cost by going to one car dealership.
Third, calculators that do claim to compare the costs of competing various cloud service providers almost never offer accurate real-world use cases — and they certainly don’t allow you to input what you want to do with your site, and then tell you how much the required resources will cost.
(Actually, I take that back. There are cloud cost calculators that will provide that kind of help, if your business is big enough. Those calculators are called salespeople, and all the big cloud guys have them, pointed at the largest enterprise accounts. If you’re a small- to mid-size business, however, you’re pretty much out of luck, at least as far as the enormo-cloud companies are concerned.)
To really get the most out of the available (non-sales guy) calculators, you need to understand the requirements of your website or app in a real-world environment. Here are the things you need to have in hand before you can calculate how much any cloud solution will cost you:
A granular understanding of what your site is expected to do, both in terms of what it displays, and what happens “on the back-end” to make it work for your users. Basically, you need to be able to describe what systems, apps and functionalities are baked into the design of your site. A competent sales engineer can take that information and make some reasonable conclusions about what you need from a hosting perspective — or provide you with some smart follow-on questions for your designer if you don’t know yourself.
An informed estimate as to how much disk space your content will require. Most sites will need one to eight gigabytes of disk space for the basic building blocks of any property: operating system, frameworks, basic system logs, and so forth. After that, your disk requirements will be dictated by what your site is trying to do. (See previous point!)
Your best guess (or past history, if you have it) of how many hits you expect your site to get.
The unavoidable hard part comes next: you need to take this information and do the necessary research. Read reviews, visit vendor sites, and e-mail/chat/talk with sales engineers. Chances are, you’ll discover that for most site hosting and development requirements, a well-managed, easily scalable VPS will provide superior value, as well as significantly lower monthly cost and fewer support headaches!
Of course, there’s another issue to ponder when you’re choosing between large commodity cloud companies and smaller, customer service-oriented vendors: how do you put a price on simplicity? Does your cloud service provider require special coding to their API? Can their product portfolio be quickly understood? For many customers – large and small – the predefined and pre-optimized package sizes, massive scalability, great redundancy, simple interface and full management of cloud, VPS and dedicated solutions from companies like ServInt offer a smarter, and less expensive, alternative to byzantine commodity cloud solutions.